This series is adapted from a paper that I wrote for a youth ministry class in Fall 2010. Posts in this series will appear on Tuesdays for as long as it takes to get through the content in manageable pieces. Enjoy!
The first crucial theological framework for youth ministry is repentance. The voice of repentance in youth ministry is the voice of the minister as prophet–one who calls young people into awareness of sin so that they might bend toward Christ. Robin Maas defines repentance as “the hard, not-so-fun work of spiritual path-clearing or moral roadwork. It is a heart-turning, stomach-churning, mind-burning experience that actually changes people” (Dean, Starting Right, 235-236). In a culture that is wearing an increasing sense of entitlement, youth ministers “bear the heavy responsibility of announcing [Christ’s] coming to youth, of convincing them that he is indeed on the way, and that they can and must do something about it” (Dean, Starting Right, 236). Repentance is an important framework in which youth ministers must work to effectively disciple students in following Christ.
In addition to the difficult work of repentance, youth ministry must also live in a theological framework of grace, which Augustine himself described as “unmerited divine favor.” In a world that is becoming increasingly performance-driven, it is often difficult for young people to even comprehend the idea of grace–of a free gift of unconditional love. Roger Nishioka cites in his chapter on grace that young people “must name at least five adults in [his or] her life that would love [him or] her unconditionally” in order to be able to successfully navigate through adolescence (Dean, Starting Right, 249). It is this sort of statistic that drives the heart of the faith-webbing model for congregational youth ministry, which seeks to put at least 30 caring adults in the life of every young person in a congregation by the time they graduate high school (Gary Peceuch, ELCA Southern Ohio Synod). With grace as a theological framework for youth ministry, the minister begins to see every young person with the eyes of Christ as a beautiful creation deserving of unconditional love.
The next foundational theological framework for youth ministry is redemption. Darrell W. Johnson writes about redemption as the good news of the gospel for the lives of young people: “If Jesus Christ comes to redeem us, then he comes to set us free from whatever binds us–to release us from whatever prevents us from being the person God created us to be” (Dean, Starting Right, 259). The task of youth ministry is to draw young people into that redemptive love of Christ so that they may be free of those things which bind them from fully experiencing the freedom of Christ.
The final theological framework for youth ministry is a framework of hope. With the recent escalation of teen suicide and bullying being hyped up in the media, today’s young people need an injection of hope in their lives. Evelyn Parker addresses the issue of Christian hope for young people: “Given the state of hopelessness among teenagers in North America, an emphasis on Christian hope shifts the theological lens of youth ministry to eschatology as we consider the theory and practice of ministry with youth” (Dean, Starting Right, 269). Young people need to know that God is present in the midst of despair, that it is okay to express anger and frustration to God through lament, and that there are ways to cope with the suffering that they experience in their own lives (Dean, Starting Right, 270-72). When this hope is balanced with the theological frameworks of repentance, grace, and redemption, youth ministers can begin to make room for the incarnational presence of Christ in the holy ground of relationships (Root, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, 111).